Netanyahu slammed for sharing dubious, incendiary news about Arab soccer fans

PM posts story claiming supporters of Bnei Sakhnin team disrupted minute of silence for flash flood victims; league says it found no evidence to back up assertion

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, April 29, 2018. (Amit Shabi/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, April 29, 2018. (Amit Shabi/Flash90)

An Arab Israeli soccer team on Sunday slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for sharing on social media an apparently false news story that claimed the club’s supporters disrupted a minute of silence held in memory of 10 teens killed in a hiking accident. A spokesperson for the team said the prime minister was trampling on the bereaved families’ feelings and trying to divide Israeli society.

The soccer league and members of the opposing team all maintained that there had been no disruption by fans of the Bnei Shakhnin club during the memorial at the team’s home stadium.

Ten teenagers from a pre-military academy were swept away in a flash flood Thursday as they hiked through a desert canyon.

Netanyahu posted to his Facebook page a news story from the right-wing Israel National News website claiming Bnei Sakhnin fans whistled and booed during a minute silence held before a league match Saturday against Hapoel Ra’anana, who won the game 3-1.

“An utter disgrace,” Netanyahu wrote Sunday along with a link to the article. “I expect all public leaders, Jews and non-Jews, to forcefully condemn this embarrassing behavior.”

A spokesperson for Bnei Sakhnin said in response that Netanyahu was intentionally trying to sow discord within Israeli society by spreading incendiary claims.

“It is very worrying that the prime minister rushed to respond to lies and to respond to those who are seeking to spread abuse and lies,” the club’s spokesperson said in a statement. “It is worrying that the honorable prime minister decided to trample on the difficult pain of the families for the purpose of dividing Israeli society.”

Illustrative photo of Bnei Sakhnin fans during a soccer game, February 10, 2013 (Flash90)

“It would have been appropriate for the honorable prime minister to stand up for the truth before his hasty response to those who are undermining Israel, that is to say those who spread the false news,” the statement added..

The report cited a Hapoel Ra’anana player as saying that the silence was observed by most, but that a few children in the top of the stands apparently didn’t understand what was going on.

The Israel soccer league later said that it too did not find any misbehavior during the short memorial event, Channel 10 reported.

“Following a careful check that we did, that included video from the game, the report by the referee, and conversations with those who were on the field, we found no indication of booing and even less so of ‘wild unrestrained behavior’ or demonstrations of joy during the minute of silence in memory of those who died in the flash flood,” a spokesperson for the league said.

MK Ofer Shelah of Yesh Atid. (Flash90)

Opposition MK Ofer Shelah of the Yesh Atid party criticized the prime minister for spreading the news report.

“The [soccer] assocation checked the video, the coach and owners of Ra’anana — all say that it never happened. And who jumps up in order to incite using a rumor that has no basis? The prime minister, of course. When has the truth ever prevented Bibi [Netanyahu] from inciting and dividing?” Shelah charged.

During the 2015 elections Netanyahu drew sharp crticism after he published a video on election day in which he urged Jewish voters to cast their ballots warning that “the Arabs are going in droves to vote.”

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